Best Practice: Riding the Vinyl Wave
In 2015, UK sales of vinyl records were up 64% on 2014 and are now at a 21-year high.
The interesting thing about this statistic is that half of record buyers are under the age of 25. It seems that millennials are increasingly bucking the digital native label and are embracing slow technology and buying vinyl as their music format of choice. I suspect that ironically it is streaming that has had a big part of this phenomenon. Not only does streaming allow listeners to ‘try before they buy’, but once bought they still have the streaming service to listen to that music on the go. This used to be a big barrier to vinyl purchase due to the difficulty of ripping a vinyl record to a digital format.
As purveyors of all things cool in technology, now is the time to offer vinyl playback as another option for your customers. Here are some tips to get the best out of vinyl playback -
- Not all record players are created equal - Turntables are available from under £100 to well over £10,000. At the lower end of the market there is a sweet spot at around £500 with fantastic turntables from companies such as Rega and Pro-Ject. If your customer already has a large vinyl collection, and an amplifier and speakers worthy of it, then consider suggesting a much more expensive model. As you pay more, the turntable is able to extract more information from those vinyl grooves to the point that many think great vinyl still sounds better than the best digital audio.
- A record player is made up of three things - The turntable is the part that goes round and round. It needs to be very mechanically quiet and not allow and noise from either the motor or bearing to come through to the record surface. The arm is the part that connects the turntable to the cartridge. It needs to be ridged, non resonant and allow the cartridge to track the groove on the record. The cartridge is fitted to the end of the arm. It has a profiled diamond on the end of a cantilever. This diamond then tracks all the bumps in the vinyl groove to convert this mechanical movement into a tiny electrical signal. Turntable, arm and cartridge need to specified together as the chain is only as good as the weakest link.
- Record players need to be positioned carefully - As a record player is a mechanical system, any vibration from the surface it is sitting on will make its way to the cartridge and result in compromised sound. Many turntables have a built in isolation system using either springs or compliment material. This is designed to isolate the vinyl disk, arm and cartridge from any vibrations from the motor or surroundings. Whatever the type of turntable, ensure that it is placed on an inert surface and is absolutely and completely level. Never stack a record player directly on top of other equipment.
- Know your signal levels - Cartridges are either Moving Magnet (MM) or Moving Coil (MC). Moving magnet cartridges are at the budget end of the scale and output around 3mV. Moving coil cartridges output around 0.3mV and tend to be more expensive. Due to these low output levels, they cannot be plugged directly into a line level input that is expecting a signal level of between 0.75 and 2V. Some amplifiers and AV receivers have an input marked ‘Phono’, which is designed to accept the low-level input from a record player directly. Check if the amplifier can accept both MM and MC, as most only support MM. If the amplifier only has line level inputs, then you will need to specify an external Phono Stage. Just like all the other components, the quality of this should be in balance with the other components.
- Ensure that the turntable is set up correctly - Cartridges need aligning on the arm to very fine tolerances, tracking weight and anti-skating need setting, and often a turntable’s suspension needs adjusting. Make sure you ask the manufacturer for a lesson on how to get the best out of the equipment.
- Is your client a DJ type? - If they are, then they will need a specialist DJ turntable. Subjecting a ‘Hi-Fi’ turntable to the kind of abuse given to one by a DJ will very quickly destroy it! If you are installing a multi-room audio distribution system, if there is a DJ in the house install a connection point in the ‘party room’ so that a set of decks can be connected to the whole house music system.
- Show your customer how to look after their new record player - Cartridges are fragile things. Show your customer how everything works before leaving and stress the following -
- A cartridge will last around 1,000 hours of use. Depending how much the record player is used, this may mean an annual replacement.
- Once the listening session is over, remove the record and put it back in its sleeve. Also make sure the arm is back in its resting position and any locking clip engaged. Make sure that the turntable is switched off.
- Make sure that the volume on the amplifier is turned down as the cartridge is lowered onto the record. Only when the cartridge is correctly tracking the groove should the volume be turned up to the required level.
- If you have showroom - Consider stocking a small but well curated selection of vinyl records for sale. This will probably not be a profit centre but is an excellent way of enticing your customers to pop by every once in a while to browse through the recent vinyl arrivals.
They vinyl resurgence appeals both to millennials who perceive it as ‘cool’, as well as customers who used to own a vinyl collection years ago and want to get back to that feeling they once had. Though unlikely to be big money in the context of a bigger integrated home sale, selling and installing record players will help single you out as someone who understands the fun factor when listening to music.
Peter Aylett is a world-renowned speaker and lecturer in residential technology, and the Technical Director at Archimedia, a multinational high-end residential integrator in The Middle East. He is also currently Chair of CEDIA’s International Technology Council Applied Content Action Team, and a regular contributor to HiddenWires.